A Chinese New Year in America

By Ming Chan, Mixed Palate

Mixed Palate Dinner Club recently hosted its first Chinese New Year celebration with Reggie Soang (wd-50), Lorenzo Gatteschi (podere ciona estate) and a number of friends. Here are some highlights as well as a “Laowai’s Guide” to Chinese New Year traditions.


(‘Laowai’ is a nick name for foreigners)

“Nian” in Chinese means “Year”. At the changing of the year Chinese believe there is tremendous energy going on – good and bad – and so follow a number of rituals in order to ensure great prosperity.

Chinese Tradition also tells us that the eve before New Year used to be dreadful. It was a night when the sea monster Nian resurfaced, raided the villagers’ harvest and ate children – year after year.

Finally, a farmer saw that the monster flinched from red flags and firecrackers. The following year the farmer prepared for the eve by ensuring everyone in the village wore red, waved red flags and lit firecrackers at the same time. Nian ran away and has never come back. On that New Year day, villagers were joyful and greeted each other by saying “Gong xi! Gong xi! (Congratulations! Congratulations!)” – for a truly new beginning.


The core of Chinese New Year celebration is prosperity. Traditionally, it started in early spring on a day that you could’t see the moon and continued for 15 days until the moon was full. Now, the celebration is normally for six days (from the eve to the 5th), during which time “spirit money” is burned as a gesture to the unknown.

Before New Year’s eve, energy is focused on the home – cleaning it thoroughly, preparing it for the arrival of the Fortune God.

From New Year’s eve until the 5th, the Fortune God is nearby, so energy is focused on doing everything “right” to ensure fortune will remain.


greet people with “Gong xi! Gong xi!”
be positive and thoughtful
light incense with table offering 11am-1pm daily for these 6 days


no mention of negative things
no cursing
no shower on new year’s day – allow prosperity to accumulate
no cleaning, sweeping, or taking garbage out on new year day


Chinese year is based on the moon cycle
This year, Chinese calendar 1/1/4711 = Western calendar 2/10/2013

Dec 28th (2/8/2013)

finish cleaning; put up new door couplet or images of door gods to protect the house from evil spirits.

Dec 29th the Eve (2/9/2013)

light incense, burn spirit money and pray; take the last shower of the year and wear brand new clothes; family dine together, each dish symbolizing a wish; family guard the night together and light firecracker at midnight, to scare away all evil spirit and welcome prosperity; put red-pocket money under children’s pillow when they’re sleeping.

Jan 1st (2/10/2013)

get up early; go to shrine/church and pray; visit friends with light gift.

Jan 2nd (2/11/2013)

married daughter goes back to her parents’ home (it’s a taboo for her to go home on the 1st).

Jan 3rd (2/12/2013)

an angry spirit “Red Dog” is roaming around outside, so stay home!

Jan 5th (2/14/2013)

Fortune God’s birthday, business usually open/resume as its first day of the new year; “break the 5th”: all the new year taboo is lifted on this day.


When I first moved to New York years ago, I rented a tiny little room from a Fuchou family in Chinatown. It was inevitably soaked in the smell of fish sauce and aged cabbages, while my landlady insisted the air was absolutely refreshing. – A matter of perspective I suppose.

Similarly, many Chinese cuisines use deeply aromatic, earthy spices that might appear to foreign senses as beyond exotic. It’s one of the reasons why I was so excited about Reggie Soang: not only because he’s from the wd-50 crew, but also because he’s a Chinese raised in the West, literate in multiple traditions. His take on Chinese cuisine achieves both deep flavor and umami, but it is also lifted with a nontraditional blend of spices and western riffs. For us, the result was a lovely, fragrant, and deeply satisfying Chinese New Year dinner.

For more, please follow Ming on Twitter@mixedpalate

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